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Sunday 24 May 2015

‘Touch’ by Claire North

Published by Orbit.
26 February 2015. 
ISBN: 978-0-356-50459-9 (HB)

Have you ever ‘lost’ an hour, or a day, or maybe even a few days? Found yourself feeling a bit dizzy and disorientated, in a strange place, possibly wearing strange clothes, with no idea what you’re doing there or how it came about?
There could be an explanation...

The protagonist of Touch, Claire North’s extraordinary new novel, has no body, no gender, not even a name other than a label someone else attaches to him/her. The character is a formless intelligence with the ability to ‘jump’ from one living body to another, and no physical existence outside whichever body he/she is ‘wearing’.

It takes a lot of skill to create a character on the page within those parameters, but North pulls it off. Kepler, as the entity’s enemies call him/her, is largely benign, even generous, give or take the occasional crime to meet a need. He/she even compensates the bodies s/he borrows, restoring a damaged reputation here, providing a decent wardrobe there.

Of course, not all similar entities are on the side of the angels, and the plot involves one who uses the power purely for self-gratification mischief. There’s also a large element of fear of and the need to destroy that which we don’t understand, as Kepler hunts down an organization devoted to research leading to the destruction of his/her kind. 

As well as this main narrative thread in the here and now, North shows how entities of this kind can live for centuries and travel all over the world; lives Kepler has lived through past ‘hosts’  play a large part, and the action flips, sometimes disconcertingly, from continent to continent, era to era, culture to culture.

It doesn’t set out to be literary fiction, but succeeds in crossing three genres. The fantasy element is self-evident; there’s plenty of crime, as Kepler chases down the bad guys who commit the murder which happens in the opening chapter; and I was drawn in by the sheer quality of the writing. If, like me, you wouldn’t normally take this book down from the shelf (Orbit specializes in science fiction and fantasy, not crime), you run the risk of missing a great experience.  It’s a meaty read, one which demands your whole attention, rather a bit of light escapism finished in two sittings, but stay with it and you’ll find it’s well worth the effort.

And since the skill in writing fantasy lies in creating circumstances which just might be possible, you may find yourself wondering exactly how those few missing hours got ‘lost’...
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Claire North  is a pseudonym for Catherine Webb,  who was born 1986. She was educated at the Godolphin and Latymer School in London and the London School of Economics. She was 14 years old when she completed Mirror Dreams, her first novel which was written during her school holidays.  The book was published in 2002 by Atom Books, part of Time Warner (now Hachette Book Group), and Webb was named Young Trailblazer of the Year by the magazine CosmoGirl. She has published eight young adult novels, all with  Atom Books. In 2010 she graduated from Royal Academy of Dramatic  Art. Webb prides herself on the scientific and historical accuracy of her Horatio Lyle books. Catherine Webb also writes fantasy novels for adults under the name Kate Griffin. As Claire North, she has written two science-fiction novels.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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